Welsh Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from South East Wales Economic Forum

1. The South East Wales Economic Forum (SEWEF) is a unique partnership in South East Wales bringing together the region’s 10 local authorities, the Welsh Government (WG), the private sector, universities, further education and the third sector to address regional economic matters. Geographically SEWEF encompasses Cardiff and reaches from the local authority areas of Bridgend County Borough Council in the west to Monmouthshire County Council and the English/Welsh border in the east, and north to the Heads of the Valleys local authority areas.

2. SEWEF welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this important debate.

3. Although this response naturally focuses on South Wales, we feel that many of the comments regarding road corridors in particular will be just as relevant to North Wales.

4. Summary of main points:

The main road and rail routes through South East Wales are crucial to the continued economic development of the whole of Wales.

The importance of upgrading and maintaining peripheral arteries into the main South East Wales transport routes should not be overlooked.

HS2 is likely to have a negative impact on the economy of South East Wales if the region’s own networks are not improved significantly.

If the WG is to play a prominent part in funding future strategic transport infrastructure projects, its potential for developing borrowing powers will have to be reassessed.

The extent to which cross-border public road and rail services are currently provided for and accessed by the Welsh population

5. Given that South Wales is effectively the major economic driver for the whole of Wales, the region’s main road and rail corridors to London—the M4 and the Great Western Main Line (GWML)—are crucial to the continued economic development of the country. However, as the Committee will no doubt be aware as a consequence of this and other inquiries it has undertaken, their fragile nature as a result of age and relative lack of investment (particularly, for example, the Severn and Brynglas tunnels) is a major concern.

6. It is universally accepted that good transport links enhance a region’s economic capabilities. There is a clear correlation in European terms of prosperity in the extremities of the European Union lagging significantly behind the core (one need only to look at maps showing current Convergence areas to see this borne out); in this context, effective, well managed, adequately funded key strategic transport corridors are even more important.

7. Clearly it is crucial not to consider the main South Wales transport corridors in isolation; the “peripheral” arteries linking into the M4 & GWML are of huge significance also. There are clear opportunities for the effective use of limited funds for such activity as well thought-out slip roads that make a positive difference to traffic flows and journey times. Such relatively mundane projects can obviously complement a much larger strategic project like the Valleys Metro that is gaining support across the region, the ultimate aim being to create a genuinely integrated regional transport system acting as a catalyst for long term, even transformational, economic growth.

8. A recently commissioned report by the Great Western Partnership (GWP) into how to maximise the use of the GWML has noted that businesses along the mainline value reliable transport networks above almost anything else.

9. In addition to seeking the views of the people of Wales we would hope that the Committee will be actively seeking the views of Irish stakeholders, as well as those continental stakeholders who use the routes under scrutiny to access Irish markets.

10. SEWEF, in a recent response to the National Assembly for Wales Enterprise and Business Committee’s inquiry into international connectivity through Welsh ports and airports has called for much better local transport links into Cardiff Airport, recognising the importance to the region of having a well-connected, properly functioning airport able to play a role in attracting significantly more business.

The arrangements currently in place to co-ordinate cross-border road and rail transport service provision

11. Through playing a key role in the GWP—a partnership originally consisting of local authorities across the breadth of the GWML from Swansea to Slough that has grown to incorporate key players from the business and transport communities—SEWEF has significant insight into stakeholders’ concerns and priorities regarding the future development of this major transport artery. By way of example, SEWEF is aware of the UK Government’s consultation on devolved levels of decision making in England which could have a significant impact on cross-border rail routes to/from Wales.

The potential impact on Wales of the plans for a High Speed 2 (HS2) Rail Service between London, the Midlands and North of England

12. While recognising the amount of future investment planned for the GWML, it could be argued that this is merely a result of catching up on previously lower levels of investment, and that the investment the line has now attracted is the least that is needed. This state of affairs is probably emphasized by the size of the proposed HS2 investment, judged by many to be the largest infrastructure project in the UK for more than a generation.

13. GWP’s research emphasises the negative impact on South Wales if HS2 isn’t effectively managed and connections aren’t executed properly, although of course it will bring benefits to North Wales.

The funding of cross-border transport infrastructure and the progress made on improving co-ordination between the Welsh Government and Department for Transport on cross-boundary issues and matters of strategic importance

14. The current divisions of devolved and non-devolved administrative responsibilities—and by extension associated funding mechanisms—are not fully conducive to effective delivery of transport policy.

15. With specific regard to the Severn bridges, the Committee may be interested to know that SEWEF has developed and discussed an options paper (which has drawn on the Committee’s inquiry) outlining alternative approaches for the most effective way of managing the structures once they come into public ownership.

16. SEWEF supports the approach taken by the WG on developing a Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan (WIIP), which necessarily addresses major transport infrastructure schemes, and has responded to an initial consultation, and will continue to contribute to the ongoing debate.

17. The WIIP process has highlighted the importance of the debate on WG borrowing powers. The current situation is likely to be untenable in the context of funding large strategic transport infrastructure projects, since the expectation for such projects to be wholly financed privately is unrealistic.

18. SEWEF acknowledges the cross-party political lobbying for some schemes that can only improve the transport system in South Wales—for example the lobbying for electrification of both the GWML to Swansea and of the Valleys rail network.

19. Concluding remarks: Cross border road and rail connectivity is clearly a vitally important subject in its own right, but one that also needs to be considered alongside several other recent/ongoing consultations and calls for evidence, many of which are either referred to above, or listed below:

The Climate Change Commission for Wales investigation into climate change & transport.

The WG’s Towards a Welsh Planning Act consultation.

The UK Department for Transport’s Great Western franchise consultation.

The WG’s M4 corridor enhancement measures consultation.

The WG’s City Regions task and finish group.

3 April 2012

Prepared 5th March 2013